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Costs awarded against council after failed ‘secondary ticketing’ prosecution

Costs have been awarded against North Yorkshire County Council in a case over the prosecution of ticket resellers, despite a judge saying she was reluctant to do so.

In March this year four ticket resellers won the case in the First-Tier Tribunal, which ruled that North Yorkshire County Council took action out of time.

The case of Worldwide Tickets Ltd & Ors v North Yorkshire County Council (secondary ticketing) [2018] UKFTT PR_2018_0066 (GRC) was the first of its kind under sections 90 to 95 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to be heard by the tribunal.

Worldwide Tickets, Gary Harvey, Alan Gambin and Black Sync were all served a maximum £5,000 penalty for breaches found in test purchases conducted in August 2017 by the Competition and Markets Authority.

North Yorkshire trading standards hosts the National Trading Standards e-Crime Team, which takes action in such cases.

The four challenged the penalties on grounds of procedural fairness and that the sums involved were too high. 

Judge Alison McKenna found the council used a deliberate ploy to circumvent the statutory time limit for taking action and added: “It is of course unpalatable to allow appeals to succeed in circumstances where the appellants admit that they breached the relevant statutory provisions

“Nevertheless, Parliament clearly intended for there to be a time limit of six months only between an enforcement authority having sufficient evidence of a breach and the service of the Notice of Intent in respect of that breach.”

In a costs ruling published this week, the judge decided against North Yorkshire as it “acted unreasonably in placing before the tribunal a case based on the purported need to serve a statutory request for information on [the Competition and Markets Authority] to evade the statutory time limit”.

Judge McKenna went on: “As to stage two, I have considered whether I ought, as a matter of discretion, to make an order for costs in the light of the unreasonable conduct I have found.

“This stage has caused me the greatest difficulty, given that the applicants admitted to having breached the relevant legislative provisions. I previously noted that I found it unpalatable to allow these appeals and I find it even more unpalatable to make a costs order in favour of parties who have admitted breaching the law.”

She decided though that the four were entitled to be treated fairly and there were important policy considerations where a public authority is found to have acted unreasonably in its conduct of legal proceedings.

Judge McKenna concluded North Yorkshire’s conduct of this case “is such that a costs order would be appropriate to mark the strength of my concern at [its] conduct of these appeals”, and asked the parties to agree the sum to be paid.

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